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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 4
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What Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 4 Post by :golferboy Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :800

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What Will He Do With It - Book 10 - Chapter 4



Jasper Losely rode slowly on through the clear frosty night; not back to the country town which he had left on his hateful errand, nor into the broad road to London. With a strange desire to avoid the haunts of men, he selected--at each choice of way in the many paths branching right and left, between waste and woodland--the lane that seemed the narrowest and the dimmest. It was not remorse that gnawed him, neither was it mere mercenary disappointment, nor even the pang of baffled vengeance--it was the profound humiliation of diseased self-love--the conviction that, with all his brute power, he had been powerless in the very time and scene in which he had pictured to himself so complete a triumph. Even the quiet with which he had escaped was a mortifying recollection. Capture itself would have been preferable, if capture had been preceded by brawl and strife--the exhibition of his hardihood and prowess. Gloomily bending over his horse's neck, he cursed himself as fool and coward. What would he have had!--a new crime on his soul? Perhaps he would have answered, "Anything rather than this humiliating failure." He did not rack his brains with conjecturing if Cutts had betrayed him, or by what other mode assistance had been sent in such time of need to Darrell. Nor did he feel that hunger for vengeance, whether on Darrell or on his accomplice (should that accomplice have played the traitor), which might have been expected from his characteristic ferocity. On the contrary, the thought of violence and its excitements had in it a sickness as of shame. Darrell at that hour might have ridden by him scathless. Cutts might have jeered and said, "I blabbed your secret, and sent the aid that foiled it"; and Losely would have continued to hang his head, nor lifted the herculean hand that lay nerveless on the horse's mane. Is it not commonly so in all reaction from excitements in which self-love has been keenly galled? Does not vanity enter into the lust of crime as into the desire of fame?

At sunrise Losely found himself on the high-road into which a labyrinth of lanes had led him, and opposite to a milestone, by which he learned that he had been long turning his back on the metropolis, and that he was about ten miles distant from the provincial city of Ouzelford. By this time his horse was knocked up, and his own chronic pains began to make themselves acutely felt; so that, when, a little farther on, he came to a wayside inn, he was glad to halt; and after a strong drain, which had the effect of an opiate, he betook himself to bed, and slept till the noon was far advanced.

When Losely came down-stairs, the common room of the inn was occupied by a meeting of the trustees of the highroads; and, on demanding breakfast, he was shown into a small sanded parlour adjoining the kitchen. Two other occupants--a man and a woman--were there already, seated at a table by the fireside, over a pint of half-and-half. Losely, warming himself at the hearth, scarcely noticed these humble revellers by a glance. And they, after a displeased stare at the stalwart frame which obscured the cheering glow they had hitherto monopolised, resumed a muttered conversation; of which, as well as of the vile modicum that refreshed their lips, the man took the lion's share. Shabbily forlorn were that man's habiliments--turned and re-turned, patched, darned, weather-stained, grease-stained--but still retaining that kind of mouldy, grandiose, bastard gentility, which implies that the wearer has known better days; and, in the downward progress of fortunes when they once fall, may probably know still worse.

The woman was some years older than her companion, and still more forlornly shabby. Her garments seemed literally composed of particles of dust glued together, while her face might have insured her condemnation as a witch before any honest jury in the reign of King James the First. His breakfast, and the brandy-bottle that flanked the loaf, were now placed before Losely; and, as distastefully he forced himself to eat, his eye once more glanced towards, and this time rested on, the shabby man, in the sort of interest with which one knave out of elbows regards another. As Jasper thus looked, gradually there stole on him a reminiscence of those coarse large features--that rusty disreputable wig. The recognition, however, was not mutual; and presently, after a whisper interchanged between the man and the woman, the latter rose, and approaching Losely, dropped a curtsey, and said, in a weird, under voice: "Stranger! luck's in store for you. Tell your fortune!" As she spoke, from some dust-hole in her garments she produced a pack of cards, on whose half-obliterated faces seemed incrusted the dirt of ages. Thrusting these antiquities under Jasper's nose, she added, "Wish and cut."

"Yshaw," said Jasper, who, though sufficiently superstitious in some matters and in regard to some persons, was not so completely under the influence of that imaginative infirmity as to take the creature before him for a sibyl. "Get away; you turn my stomach. Your cards smell; so do you!"

"Forgive her, worthy sir," said the man, leaning forward. "The hag may be unsavoury, but she is wise. The Three Sisters who accosted the Scottish Thane, sir (Macbeth--you have seen it on the stage?) were not savoury. Withered, and wild in their attire, sir, but they knew a thing or two! She sees luck in your face. Cross her hand and give it vent!"

"Fiddledee," said the irreverent Losely. "Take her off, or I shall scald her," and he seized the kettle.

The hag retreated grumbling; and Losely, soon despatching his meal, placed his feet 'on the hobs, and began to meditate what course to adopt for a temporary subsistence. He had broken into the last pound left of the money which he had extracted from Mrs. Crane's purse some days before. He recoiled with terror from the thought of returning to town and placing himself at her mercy. Yet what option had he? While thus musing, he turned impatiently round, and saw that the shabby man and the dusty hag were engaged in an amicable game of ecarte, with those very cards which had so offended his olfactory organs. At that sight the old instinct of the gambler struggled back; and, raising himself up, he looked over the cards of the players. The miserable wretches were, of course, playing for nothing; and Losely saw at a glance that the man was, nevertheless, trying to cheat the woman! Positively he took that man into more respect; and that man, noticing the interest with which Losely surveyed the game, looked up, and said:

"While the time, sir? What say you? A game or two? I can stake my pistoles--that is, sir, so far as a fourpenny bit goes. If ignorant of this French game, sir, cribbage or all fours?"

"No," said Losely, mournfully; "there is nothing to be got out of you; otherwise"--he stopped and sighed. "But I have seen you under other circumstances. What has become of your Theatrical Exhibition? Gambled it away? Yet, from what I see of your play, I think you ought not to have lost, Mr. Rugge."

The ex-manager started.

"What! You knew me before the Storm?--before the lightning struck me, as I may say, sir--and falling into difficulties, I became-a wreck? You knew me?--not of the Company?--a spectator?"

"As you say--a spectator. You had once in your employ an actor--clever old fellow. Waife, I think, he was called."

"Ah! hold! At that name, sir, my wounds bleed afresh. From that execrable name, sir, there hangs a tale!"

"Indeed! Then it will be a relief to you to tell it," said Losely, resettling his feet on the hob, and snatching at any diversion from his own reflections.

"Sir, when a gentleman, who is a gentleman, asks as a favour a specimen of my powers of recital, not professionally, and has before him the sparkling goblet, which he does not invite me to share, he insults my fallen fortunes. Sir, I am poor--I own it; I have fallen into the sere and yellow leaf, sir; but I have still in this withered bosom the heart of a Briton!"

"Warm it, Mr. Rugge. Help yourself to the brandy--and the lady too."

"Sir, you are a gentleman; sir, your health. Hag, drink better days to us both. That woman, sir, is a hag, but she is an honour to her sex-faithful!"

"It is astonishing how faithful ladies are when not what is called beautiful. I speak from painful experience," said Losely, growing debonnair as the liquor relaxed his gloom, and regaining that levity of tongue which sometimes strayed into wit, and which-springing originally from animal spirits and redundant health--still came to him mechanically whenever roused by companionship from alternate intervals of lethargy and pain. "But, now, Mr. Rugge, I am all ears; perhaps you will be kind enough to be all tale."

With tragic aspect, unrelaxed by that _jeu de mots_, and still wholly unrecognising in the massive form and discoloured swollen countenance of the rough-clad stranger, the elegant proportions, the healthful, blooming, showy face, and elaborate fopperies of the Jasper Losely who had sold to him a Phenomenon which proved so evanishing, Rugge entered into a prolix history of his wrongs at the hands of Waife, of Losely, of Sophy. Only of Mrs. Crane did he speak with respect; and Jasper then for the first time learned--and rather with anger for the interference than gratitude for the generosity--that she had repaid the L100, and thereby cancelled Rugge's claim upon the child. The ex-manager then proceeded to the narrative of his subsequent misfortunes--all of which he laid to the charge of Waife and the Phenomenon. "Sir," said he, "I was ambitious. From my childhood's hour I dreamed of the great York Theatre--dreamed of it literally thrice. Fatal Vision! But like other dreams, that dream would have faded--been forgotten in the workday world--and I should not have fallen into the sere and yellow, but have had, as formerly, troops of friends, and not been reduced to the horrors of poverty and a faithful Hag. But, sir, when I first took to my bosom that fiend William Waife, he exhibited a genius, sir, that Dowton (you have seen Dowton?--grand) was a stick as compared with. Then my ambition, sir, blazed and flared up-obstreperous, and my childhood's dream haunted me; and I went about musing (Hag, you recollect!)--and muttering 'The Royal Theatre at York.' But, incredible though it seem, the ungrateful scorpion left me with a treacherous design to exhibit the parts I had fostered on the London boards; and even-handed Justice, sir, returned the poisoned chalice to his lips, causing him to lose an eye and to hobble--besides splitting up his voice--which served him right. And again I took the scorpion for the sake of the Phenomenon. I had a babe myself once, sir, though you may not think it. Gormerick (that is this faithful Hag) gave the babe Daffy's Elixir, in teething; but it died--convulsions. I comforted myself when that Phenomenon came out on my stage--in pink satin and pearls. 'Ha,' I said, 'the great York Theatre shall yet be mine!' The haunting idea became a Mania, sir. The learned say that there is a Mania called Money Mania--(Monomania??)--when one can think but of the one thing needful--as the guilty Thane saw the dagger, sir--you understand. And when the Phenomenon had vanished and gone, as I was told, to America, where I now wish I was myself, acting Rolla at New York or elsewhere, to a free and enlightened people--then, sir, the Mania grew on me still stronger and stronger. There was a pride in it, sir, a British pride.

"I said to this faithful Hag: 'What--shall I not have the York because that false child has deserted me? Am I not able to realise a Briton's ambition without being beholden to a Phenomenon in spangles?' Sir, I took the York! Alone I did it!"

"And," said Losely, feeling a sort of dreary satisfaction in listening to the grotesque sorrows of one whose condition seemed to him yet more abject than his own--"And the York Theatre alone perhaps did you."

"Right, sir," said Rugge--half-dolorously, half-exultingly. "It was a Grand Concern, and might have done for the Bank of England! It swallowed up my capital with as much ease, sir, as I could swallow an oyster if there were one upon that plate! I saw how it would be, the very first week--when I came out myself, strong--Kean's own part in the Iron Chest--Mortimer, sir; there warn't three pounds ten in the house--packed audience, sir, and they had the face to hiss me. 'Hag,' said I to Mrs. Gormerick, 'this Theatre is a howling wilderness.' But there is a fascination in a Grand Concern, of which one is the head--one goes on and on. All the savings of a life devoted to the British Drama and the production of native genius went in what I may call--a jiffey! But it was no common object, sir, to your sight displayed--but what with pleasure, sir (I appeal to the Hag), Heaven itself surveyed!--a great man struggling, sir, with the storms of fate, and greatly falling, sir, with--a sensation! York remembers it to this day! I took the benefit of the Act--it was the only benefit I did take--and nobody was the better for it. But I don't repine--I realised my dream: that is more than all can say. Since then I have had many downs, and no ups. I have been a messenger, sir--a prompter, sir, in my own Exhibition, to which my own clown, having married into the tragic line, succeeded, sir, as proprietor; buying of me when I took the York, the theatre, scenery, and properties, sir, with the right still to call himself 'Rugge's Grand Theatrical Exhibition,' for an old song, sir--Melancholy. Tyrannised over, sir--snubbed and bullied by a creature dressed in a little brief authority; and my own tights--scarlet--as worn by me in my own applauded part of 'The Remorseless Baron.' At last, with this one faithful creature, I resolved to burst the chains--to be free as air--in short, a chartered libertine, sir. We have not much, but thank the immortal gods, we are independent, sir--the Hag and I--chartered libertines! And we are alive still--at which, in strict confidence, I may own to you that I am astonished."

"Yes! you do live," said Jasper, much interested--for how to live at all was at that moment a matter of considerable doubt to himself; "you do live--it is amazing! How?"

"The Faithful tells fortunes; and sometimes we pick up windfalls--widows and elderly single ladies--but it is dangerous. Labour is sweet, sir: but not hard labour in the dungeons of a Bridewell. She has known that labour, sir; and in those intervals I missed her much, Don't cry, Hag; I repeat, I live!"

"I understand now; you live upon her! They are the best of creatures, these hags, as you call them, certainly. Well, well, no saying what a man may come to! I suppose you have never seen Waife, nor that fellow you say was so well-dressed and good-looking, and who sold you the Phenomenon, nor the Phenomenon herself--Eh?" added Losely, stretching himself, and yawning, as he saw the brandybottle was finished.

"I have seen Waife--the one-eyed monster! Aha!--I have seen him!--and yesterday too; and a great comfort it was to me too!"

"You saw Waife yesterday--where?"

"At Ouzelford, which I and the Faithful left this morning."

"And what was he doing?" said Losely, with well-simulated indifference. "Begging, breaking stones, or what?"

"No," said Rugge, dejectedly; "I can't say it was what, in farcical composition, I should call such nuts to me as that, sir. Still, he was in a low way--seemed a pedlar or a hawker, selling out of a pannier on the Rialto--I mean the Cornmarket, sir--not even a hag by his side, only a great dog--French. A British dog would have scorned such fellowship. And he did not look merry as he used to do when in my troop. Did he, Hag?"

"His conscience smites him," said the Hag, solemnly.

"Did you speak to him?"

"Why, no. I should have liked it, but we could not at that moment, seeing that we were not in our usual state of independence. This faithful creature was being led before the magistrates, and I too--charge of cheating a cook-maid, to whom the Hag had only said, 'that if the cards spoke true, she would ride in her carriage.' The charge broke down; but we were placed for the night in the Cells of the Inquisition, remanded, and this morning banished from the city, and are now on our way to--any other city;--eh, Hag?"

"And the old man was not with the Phenomenon? What has become of her, then?"

"Perhaps she may be with him at his house, if he has one; only, she was not with him on the Rialto or Cornmarket. She was with him two years ago, I know; and he and she were better off then than he is now, I suspect. And that is why it did me good, sir, to see him a pedlar--a common pedlar--fallen into the sere, like the man he abandoned!"

"Humph--where were they two years ago?"

"At a village not far from Humberston. He had a pretty house, sir, and sold baskets; and the girl was there too, favoured by a great lady--a Marchioness, sir! Gods!"

"Marchioness?--near Humberston? The Marchioness of Montfort, I suppose?"

"Likely enough; I don't remember. All I know is, that two years ago my old Clown was my tyrannical manager; and being in that capacity, and this world being made for Caesar, which is a shame, sir, he said to me, with a sneer, 'Old Gentleman Waife, whom you used to bully, and his Juliet Araminta, are in clover!' And the mocking varlet went on to unfold a tale to the effect, that when he had last visited Humberston, in the race-week, a young tradesman, who was courting the Columbine, whose young idea I myself taught to shoot on the light fantastic toe, treated that Columbine, and one of her sister train (being, indeed, her aunt, who has since come out at the Surrey in Desdemona) to a picnic in a fine park. (That's discipline!--ha, ha!) And there, sir, Columbine and her aunt saw Waife on the other side of a stream by which they sate carousing."

"The Clown perhaps said it to spite you."

"Columbine herself confirmed his tale, and said that on returning to the Village Inn for the Triumphal Car (or bus) which brought them, she asked if a Mr. Waife dwelt thereabouts, and was told, 'Yes, with his grand-daughter.' And she went on asking, till all came out as the Clown reported. And Columbine had not even the gratitude, the justice, to expose that villain--not even to say he had been my perfidious servant! She had the face to tell me 'she thought it might harm him, and he was a kind old soul.' Sir, a Columbine whose toes I had rapped scores of times before they could be turned out, was below contempt! but when my own Clown thus triumphed over me, in parading before my vision the bloated prosperity of mine enemy, it went to my heart like a knife; and we had words on it, sir, and--I left him to his fate. But a pedlar! Gentleman Waife has come to that! The heavens are just, sir, and of our pleasant vices, sir, make instruments that--that--"

"Scourge us," prompted the Hag, severely.

Losely rang the bell; the maid-servant appeared. "My horse and bill. Well, Mr. Rugge, I must quit your agreeable society. I am not overflowing with wealth at this moment, or I would request your acceptance of--"

"The smallest trifle," interrupted the Hag, with her habitual solemnity of aspect.

Losely, who, in his small way, had all the liberality of a Catiline, "_alieni appetens, sui profusus_," drew forth the few silver coins yet remaining to him; and though he must have calculated that, after paying his bill, there could scarcely be three shillings left, he chucked two of them towards the Hag, who, clutching them with a profound curtsey, then handed them to the fallen monarch by her side, with a loyal tear and a quick sob that might have touched the most cynical republican.

In a few minutes more, Losely was again on horseback; and as he rode towards Ouzelford, Rugge and his dusty Faithful shambled on in the opposite direction--shambled on, footsore and limping, along the wide, waste, wintry thoroughfare--vanishing from the eye, as their fates henceforth from this story. There they go by the white hard milestone; farther on, by the trunk of the hedgerow-tree, which lies lopped and leafless--cumbering the wayside, till the time come to cast it off to the thronged, dull stackyard. Farther yet, where the ditch widens into yon stagnant pool, with the great dung-heap by its side. There the road turns aslant; the dung-heap hides them. Gone! and not a speck on the Immemorial, Universal Thoroughfare.

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